AAHL, our national biocontainment facility, provides front line diagnostic testing to keep Australia free of exotic diseases.

The challenge

Disease detected in Australian farms

A prawn with white spot disease.  ©Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

In late November 2016, white spot disease was noticed on a commercial prawn farm in Queensland. White spot disease is a highly contagious viral infection that affects crustaceans. Until this time, Australia was one of the few countries in the world with a prawn farming industry that had remained free of the disease.

With the Australian prawn industry having a gross value of prawn production worth $413 million in 2015-16, and employing 5000 people, it was of national significance to control this disease outbreak.

Our response

Confirmation that white spot disease was present

When an emergency animal disease is detected, Australia's state and national agencies work together to test samples, contain the disease and manage a coordinated response. AAHL is integral in the confirmation of exotic diseases. Timing is critical. A rapid response is essential to minimising the economic, environmental and social impacts of an outbreak.

The diagnostic skills and knowledge of AAHL scientists, including specialists in the diagnosis of disease in aquatic animals, is an important component of Australia's ability to deal with an emergency animal disease outbreak.

The results

Rapid response to disease outbreak

During December 2016, AAHL received an all-time monthly high of over 21,000 samples for testing. The AAHL team responded quickly and effectively to the surge in testing demand not only for this outbreak but all the other diagnostic submissions received in the same period. The response successfully demonstrated the capabilities of both the facility and the staff to seamlessly switch over to Emergency Outbreak mode during the initial detection period. In the months after the start of the outbreak, AAHL conducted over 58,400 tests for white spot disease on 22,500 samples.

The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries completed the work of draining and decontaminating all seven prawn farms hit by white spot disease on the Logan River. They also conducted ongoing surveillance and biosecurity management within the Queensland Movement Control Area.

In late 2018, three prawn farms along the Logan River have returned to production. Queensland Government is working closely with the farms to monitor production as they progress. White spot surveillance is continuing on the Logan and Brisbane Rivers and within the Moreton Bay region. As of May 2019, all surveillance testing from around Australia has returned negative results.

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